The 17-year locusts make good fish bait

G. Sam Piatt

I don’t know when the next appearance of the 17-year locusts (cicadas) will occur in this area. The last one I recall was in the summer of 2008, when their incessant droning filled the trees in at least part of the woods in Scioto, Adams, Boyd, Greenup and Lewis counties. There are different cycles in different areas of a county.

They lie dormant in the earth until a mysterious something awakens them, telling them it’s time to perpetuate the species. Up they come and into the trees, the males attracting a mate by rubbing their wings together, creating their lazy, late summer song.

They bore into the bark of limbs and lay their eggs. Then they die. The eggs hatch, the young of the next generation shed their skins, fall to the earth, and dig in to wait for the alarm clock to sound in another 17 years or so.

What did our Creator, who one day made “everything that creepeth upon the earth,” (Genesis Chapter 1, verse 25) have on his mind, anyway?

Must have been to provide fish bait. It was in 2008 that I took a can full of live ones to Greenbo Lake. I ran the hook slightly under the vertebra in such a way that left the insect alive and able to flutter its wings on the surface.

I got one bass strike after another – that is, when the bass could beat the bluegills to them.

Something that I remembered from 60 years before – something that one of the greatest bass fishermen in this area shared with me – led me to go fishing with the locusts.

The late Delbert Grizzle of Flatwoods told me of a locust year occurring not long after 1956, the year water began backing up behind the dam on Greenbo Lake. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources had stocked the new lake with largemouth bass, including some big brood stock.

The department’s biologists doubted that Greenbo, fed by tiny Buffalo and Lick creeks, would ever amount to much as a producer of big bass. The hill land covered with forests surrounding the lake offered no fertility to the water. The banks were too steep to provide adequate spawning sites.

Grizzle disagreed with the biologists. It was during that locust year when he and some of his fishing friends walked up onto the dam. The locusts were singing all around. Grizzle scoped up a double handful and flung them out onto the surface.

Bass, many of them 15 and 16 inches long, churned the water to a froth as they ripped into the easy meal.

“Boys,” Grizzle said to his buddies, “we’re going to have ourselves a bass lake.”

It was 10 years later, just around dusk on a summer evening, that he cast a plastic nightcrawler in toward a Greenbo shoreline and battled in the 13-pound, 8-ounce largemouth that stood as the state record for 18 years.

And 52 years after that, as darkness falls on a summer night, you can visit Greenbo Lake and find bass fishermen casting plastic worms, hoping to hook the 14-pounder that some believe swims there.


Some of the fastest action for smallmouth bass lies in West Virginia’s New River, especially down the New River Gorge’s white-water section. Several companies offer guided 7-man rubber raft trips between the put-in point at Thurmond and the take-out point just downstream from High Bridge.

In between lie 19 rapids, including some Class IVs and a couple of Class Vs.

Soc Clay and I, several years back when we were still in our high adventure mode, took a fishing trip with a guide in a dory – a deep, wide wooden rowboat that turns up slightly on both ends – down that stretch.

I kid you not, we caught and released at least 100 smallmouth during the six-hour trip. None weighed more than two pounds, but they were leapers and divers in that swift water.

We took them on small jigs adorned with motor oil-colored curly tailed rubber grubs. We scored on casts made coming up on a rapid and at the foot of rapids. We had to hunker down and hold onto the sides of the boat as we shot down over some very fast and roaring water.

In the quiet, deep pools between rapids, reachable only by boat or raft, anglers who work slower can anticipate hooking smallmouth weighing four pounds or more.

More information is available by writing: New River Gorge, Superintendent, P.O. Box 246, Glen Jean, WV 25846-0246.

G. Sam Piatt

Reach G. Sam Piatt at or 606-932-3619.

Reach G. Sam Piatt at or 606-932-3619.